Thursday, May 7, 2015

Social Media and the Law

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Did you know that almost 9% of Facebook accounts are fake or duplicates? What about that the government could be looking at your newest post on Instagram or Facebook? The government often looks at many criminal's Social Media accounts to gain more information on their activites. This is often done by creating fake Facebook accounts, which are often used to catch criminals and to preclude criminals from doing crimes. These actions are highly debated because it goes against many social networking
policies to create fake accounts, and it may invade people’s right to privacy. I believe that only the government should be allowed to create fraudulent social networking accounts and only to catch criminals.

Although creating fraudulent accounts is against Facebook’s rule of “Computer abuse and Fraud act,” law authorities often create fake accounts and are able to catch many criminals. Many officers believe that social media is a good tool because “you are able to see the criminal in his comfortable stage,” and you can see the hobbies, travel information, friends, family, and places that the criminal often goes (Business Insider). After attempting to find a criminal for over a month, an officer said that he was able to track a criminal down with a fictitious Facebook account because the criminal was continuously sharing his location. This is another example of how social networking is a shockingly easy way to find criminals. There are many other example such as a British robber who stole $130,000 and then posted pictures of his trip returning to the UK, and a teen bragging about his recent hit and run (Digital Trends). From 2007 to 2010, London Police use of Facebook grew 540% after realizing what a great crime fighting tool it was. In the US, 80% of law officials say they have used social media to solve or stop crimes (Business Insider). Criminals are often ignorant as to what they put on their social networking accounts. Federal Judge William Martini ruled that it is not an unreasonable search to gain information on a Facebook account of a suspect because the suspect either accepted the friend request, which was sent by the government’s fake account, or their information was already open for the public to see (CNN). Therefore the evidence was gained consensually. In addition, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and Google+ have seen the number of warrants skyrocket which means that law authorities are finding social media increasingly effective in their attempts at solving crimes (Richmond Journal of Law & Technology).

One of the most successful uses for social media and online chatting is entrapping child sex offenders. Often, in order to catch a child sex offender, law authorities will make a fake account and pretend be a young child, usually a pre-teen. After the suspect child sex offender and the investigator have chatted, the investigator will agree to have sex at a location. While law authorities are waiting, the sex offender often walks right into the place where he thought he was about to have sex. At this moment the police are able to arrest the criminal. An example of this elaborate scheme is the case Wisconsin v. Kenney in 2002 (Digital Evidence and Computer Crime pg. 581). This case started in 1999 when a special agent from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Erik Szatkowski, posed as a 13 year old boy from Milwaukee, named Alex. Special agent Szatkowski logged onto an America Online chat room and begin chatting with Kenney, the child sex offender. The two engaged in a conversation discussing erotic wrestling. The sex offender was lured into a restaurant where the two sides planned to meet, and much to Kenney’s surprise, instead of a young boy ready to wrestle, it was law authorities ready to arrest the child sex offender. I think that this is one of the best uses because we are protecting the young who are many times helpless to an adult.

The downside of police using fake Facebook accounts is that they have been known to go too far and misuse their power. An example of this is Sondra Arquiett. Arquiett was arrested and her phone was taken from her by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). She was arrested because law authorities discovered that she was associated with a gang that was selling cocaine. After her phone was seized, a Drug Enforcement Agent, Timothy Sinnigen, went onto Arquiett's phone and started taking all the pictures Arquette had on her phone without her consent. From there, DEA agent Sinnigen created a fake Facebook account in Arquiett's name to try to communicate with friends of Arquiette, who were suspected of selling cocaine. Sinnigen also posted pictures of Arquiett such as suggestive photos, and pictures of her family. This is where I believe the DEA agent crossed the line. Arquiett only found out after one of her friends asked her what she was doing on her Facebook account. Arquiett sued Timothy Sinnigen. The DEA tried to justify that Arquiett gave her consent to use the photos on her phone after her phone was seized during her arrest. This is how law authorities can misuse their power to create fictitious social networking accounts and invade the privacy of someone.

The main reason why there is a debate about the the government creating fake Facebook accounts is not the common innocent person, but Facebook itself. Facebook doesn’t want anyone going against the Terms of Service of Privacy Policy, and they made it clear that the government is no exception. After the case with Sondra Arquette, one of Facebook's spokesmen announced that “it is a violation of our policies to use a fake name or operate under a false identity.” This comment was directed towards law authorities. The reason why Facebook is against fake accounts is because it diminishes the “safe, trusted environment where people can engage in authentic interactions” (TechDirt). This may ruin Facebook users enjoyment on the site, and it takes away from the foundation from which Facebook was built upon. As someone who has Social Networking accounts, I would rather the government not look at my every move.

Even though we feel like our personal bubble is being pushed, the ends justify the means when the government can arrest criminals. The government ignoring a safe and trusted environment should be overlooked because they are taking sex offenders, robbers, and gang members off the streets, which improves our society as a whole.


My experience as a blogger was fun and enjoyable. I often found myself checking to see how many views I got and looking to see if I got any new comments. It was also really interesting to see the posts of my peers. What I found the most intriguing about being a blogger was I got to put my ideas online for the world to see. I also enjoyed discussing various topics with my commenters and seeing that many people agree with my point, which was that the government should be allowed to create fraudulent social networking accounts in order to catch criminals. My point relates to digital citizenship because it deals with times when criminals were not responsible on their social networking accounts, and the result was that they were arrested. It was nice to see people agree with me, it was also exciting to see people disagree so then I could comment back with a new point to backup my point. An idea that conflicted with mine, which came up multiple times, was that law authorities should have to use a warrant to create a fake social networking account. Although this did not change my mind on the topic, these comments persuaded me to do more research about warrants in the Social Networking world. Through my research, I found that many times law officials do not need warrants because they would not take away the criminals fourth amendment rights. I was happy to answer this question because I felt as if I did not do much to explain this problem in my blog. Overall, the blogging experience was really fun and I’m glad I was able to have this experience.


  1. Hi Toby Flinderson! I enjoyed reading your post about the use of fake Facebook accounts to trap criminals and your discussion of the history of using fake identities to catch sex offenders. While I agree with the general position that much social networking activity is public and therefore accessible to anyone to view, including law enforcement, I believe that there are enough legal strategies to get information on social networking accounts without having to circumvent privacy walls illegally. In an article from the Wall Street Journal a representative of the Electronic Privacy Information Center states that police can use warrants to obtain information related to crimes. There is no need, and it is dangerous to think its ok, for law enforcement to access personal information without a warrant. What do you think of this point of view? Thank you posting on this topic!--Ms. Riches

    1. Hi Jane Riches, thanks for reading my post and for your input. Although I agree that obtaining a warrant is the safest way to start an investigation, from my research I have come to the conclusion that many police officers do not obtain warrants. I agree with your point that police officers should get warrants because it is safer, but I still believe that information gained by the officer should be used in court. If you are interested in learning more, here is an article that may seek your interest. Thanks for the comment- Tobias F.

  2. Hello Toby! Great job with your post about Social medias and the Law! I really found your examples of how the governement having acess to our social media accounts is a positive thing for our community. I agree, I think that we should allow the government to look on our social media accounts for the purpose and ONLY the purpose of finding criminals. I found this cool article about how many accounts on facebook are fake, not only from the government, but from the general public as well. Overall, I would say that your view on all of this is great, I just wish more people could see it! Best regards on getting your message out there! -EPICHippos77

    1. Hey EPICHippos77, thanks for commenting on my blog. I’m glad that you found my blog interesting. I read the article that you shared. I found it really interesting how there are millions of fake Facebook accounts out there, and almost 10% of the people you meet online could be fake or duplicates. Thanks for sharing that cool article with me. I found an article by PCWorld which I think you would be interested in. It relates to what Facebook is trying to do in order to stop the creation and use of fake accounts. Thanks for the comment! - Toby F.

  3. Hello Toby, I enjoyed your blog post allot. I agree with you that the government should be able to create fake accounts to catch criminals. But I personally believe that this should only be allowed with either a judge signature or the person has a previous felony. I also agree with the government being able to break facebook's terms of service to catch criminals with suspicion or a judges signature. But I believe that without a signature or previous felony that the evidence gathered this way should be thrown out as evidence , similar to breaking the forth amendment. Overall great post Toby keep up the great work.

    1. Hey Tommy V, thanks for reading my post and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Most of the time police do not need a warrant to look at a social media accounts. There are three common situations when police officers do not need a warrant. The first is when a criminal has all their posts public for the whole world to see. In this case, the criminal has no reasonable expectation of privacy because they’ve shared their information to the whole world. The second situation is when a police creates a false account and requests to follow or friend the criminal. If the criminal accepts the request from the false account, then the criminal has no reasonable expectation of privacy because they are letting a random person see all of their posts and tweets. The third situation is when the police can look at the criminals social media through a follower of the criminal. In this situation, the criminal has no reasonable expectation of privacy because third-parties do not have to be loyal to them. The BIll of Rights doesn’t mention anything about how gaining information from a third-party is a violation of one’s expectation of privacy. In these three scenarios, I believe that police do not need a warrant. The only time I believe that the police need a warrant is when they have to ask Facebook, Twitter or another Social Networking site to give up information about their users. If you’d like to read more about this topic, I found a very interesting article that relates to this topic. Thanks for the comment! Flinderson, Toby

  4. Hi Toby. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I totally agree with you that the government should create fake accounts to arrest and catch criminals. As your view, you said it is about 9% accounts are fake account as government account on Facebook. I think government should create fake accounts. Because it is a very efficient way to arrest criminals to protect other accounts. Although it violated privacy and the security of Internet. It still a great way to catch criminals. It can help policy and the Internet service to protect our account. The government also used that way got a lot of criminals. I also found an article about how does government have right to create the fake account and how do they protect other users' accounts. I think it can be used to support your view. I hope you can enjoy reading it. You did a great job on your article.

    1. Thanks for reading my post Leo Zhu! I’m happy that you enjoyed it and that you agree. The article that you shared with me was interesting and it was nice that the source had actual quotes from the case about Sondra Arquiett. If you’d like to read more about how the government uses social media, then you should look at my Bibliography because it has some really nice sources where you can learn a lot more on this topic. Thanks for the comment- Tobias Flinderson


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